Bob Harper on the 'emotional trauma' of his heart attack and the importance of getting 'help when you need it'

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Bob Harper opens up about his health journey and approach to wellness. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Bob Harper opens up about his health journey and approach to wellness. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

Bob Harper wears many hats: photographer, personal trainer, best-selling author, host of The Biggest Loser and since 2017, a heart attack survivor. A near-fatal heart attack at the gym almost killed the health and fitness expert, but with the help of doctors and professionals, Harper was given a “second chance at life” — and is making heart health education his mission.

Harper helped pioneer the Survivors Have Heart program, which uses the power of patient stories to engage heart attack survivors and their loved ones. As the program marks its fourth year, Harper has photographed heart attack survivors from across the county — including himself — in hopes of challenging the traditional perceptions of the way heart attack survivors look.

Yahoo Life caught up with Harper from his New York City home, where he Zoomed with his adorable pups on his lap and chatted about being a part of this group of heart attack survivors, what healthy living means to him now and how prioritizing his mental health also matters.

What was your recovery like in New York City?

My dog and I would walk the city streets and I got so much [love] and support from New Yorkers! I had gone through a complete identity crisis after my heart attack: So much of my recovery was physical, but people didn't grasp the emotional trauma I was experiencing. It was a challenging time — but this city helped me get back on my feet again.

Harper's self-portrait is part of his Survivors Have Heart series. (Photo: Bob Harper/Survivors Have Heart)
Harper's self-portrait is part of his Survivors Have Heart series. (Photo: Bob Harper/Survivors Have Heart)

Do you have any small self-care rituals to help you reset?

Hot yoga! Put me in a hot yoga room, and I leave feeling energized and wrung out. I love to work out, but I've had to change the way I work out. I don't do what I did prior to my heart attack, but I’ve learned how to pivot. You’ve got to know when to pivot in this life!

Do you have a mantra?

"Don't think, just do." That little mantra really works for me when I don't want to work out.

What brings you joy?

My dogs! They are my best friends and of course, my support group and friends who have been with me every step of the day. Hillary Clinton was right: It takes a village! I can't expect to go through this life thinking I have all the answers or that I can make it on my own. I realized how important my friends and family are — and my dogs! — and since then, I’ve had a better quality of life.

What stresses you out?

When I feel like I’m not being heard. If the lines of communication are open, I can handle pretty much anything. But don't keep me in the dark! And since my heart attack, I live by this: Don't sweat the little things or the big things. It’s all going to work out, it’s all going to be OK. That’s not something that comes easily to me, but it’s a muscle I’ve tried to build.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

Never give up on your dreams! I was a little boy who grew up on a farm in Tennessee and now I live in New York City! If you want something bad enough, go work for it.

Also: Get help when you need it — don't feel like you need to do everything on your own. I am a control freak. I like to be in charge. I’m Type A. I had to be OK with asking for help — that was the biggest thing I learned in my mental recovery — and being OK when you’re not OK.

Is there a wellness trend that’s overrated?

Group fitness classes. Sometimes I don't want my trainers to be my life coach; I say that with all due respect, but there’s a time and a place! People are out there calling themselves life coaches and I wonder what drives them, let alone their credentials.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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